Public sector organizations

14
Sep

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

Credit: Chris Denny

Credit: Chris Denny

When public sector organizations become involved in sponsorship, they have to prepare for scrutiny from a public and media that really don’t understand what sponsorship is about. Usually, it happens when the public agency is the vendor of sponsorship rights. The story below is about a public agency as purchaser, but it also illustrates the point and, as is often the case, struck me as unfair.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has complained that two provincial government agencies spent $22,000 on hospitality at the 2014 Nova Scotia Open, which the province helped sponsor. The government responded with a list of media and other benefits it received from the sponsorship and a statement that it cut its hospitality budget in half for 2015 and didn’t serve booze.

The story played regionally on CBC and got picked up by various print and online media, and it is yet another illustration of one of the hurdles publicly-funded organizations face when they enter into the sponsorship arena, be it as purchasers or vendors.

In an interview broadcast on CBC News, Kevin Lacey, Atlantic Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, asks, “why is it when something good happens,  like this golf tournament coming to Nova Scotia, do our government officials use it as an opportunity to stuff themselves with free food and booze on the taxpayer dime?”

Is this fair? You decide. The bill covered five days of hospitality, and the total bar bill for the five days came in a little over $800. The bulk of the cost was food, ordered in advance and priced at $59 per person for 50 people, or $2,950 per day. Over the top? With an invited guest list of 225, I don’t think so. Yes, many of the invited guests were staff. Perhaps too many, but you could also make an argument that if you’re properly using hospitality to drum up business, it’s a good idea to pack the room with people who can market your wares.

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” is a quote often attributed to Mark Twain. Like many Twain quotes, it may or may not be his. But I think it applies here. As a taxpayer, I admire much of what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation does, but in this case they had the documents in hand, and had they spent just a little more time studying them, they might have come to a different, though far less headline-grabbing, conclusion.

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